All about travel, with a focus on food.

6 hours layover in London Airport - Visit London City too

Given six or more hours between arrival and departure at London, it is possible to make a quick trip into London City. This should easily give around 90 minutes of time in London, assuming 1 hr of travel time from the Airport to Piccadilly Circus.

There are caveats - sometimes, the tube and/or security at London can be a long drawn out affair. But having just made this quick run, I ended up with 45 minutes to spare at London for my departure, so it was all quite comfortable.

Of course, all I did at Piccadilly Circus is walk around a few blocks, basically just exploring streets, shops, and small parks. And the tube ride itself was a novelty. All this activity is much more fun than lounging around at Heathrow!

So here's how it all worked out: Arrived at Heathrow at 9AM. Felt awake and good, so decided to try out a trip to the City. Immigration was quick, under 5 minutes. Note that some passengers are not allowed out of Heathrow - so be sure to check your transit status.
9:30AM was at the Underground station. There is also a faster Heathrow Express, but it is far more expensive, and not really worth it to get to Piccadilly Circus since it requires changing trains at Paddington. Best to just stick to the more frequent tube, and sit in one place for the entire journey.

Desafío Extremo: Polo Norte

Extreme Challenge: To the North Pole

I recently stumbled onto a great hour-long show on a Spanish TV channel V-Me, of a group trying to trek up to the North Pole. No English subtitles, but great to watch anyway. Nothing but snow and ice all around and very cold. No other people too, until they reach the North Pole itself.

Cool gear: Transformer-like canoes - used as a gear slide, as a boat, or tied together as a catamaran to navigate the waters between ice fields in the Arctic. There was a time when I thought it would be great to trek across some of the Arctic or Antarctic in the cold. But now I prefer to watch it on TV and am content to taste a minuscule bit of the real thing by braving the cold in New Hampshire, USA and parts of Canada, secure in the knowledge that a nice warm building is always close by to run into once it becomes unbearably cold!

The show has a blog, looks like they attempted this a few times before reaching Pole Norte: Desafío Extremo: Polo Norte

YouTube seems to have the show too, this part is quite interesting. On reaching Polo Norte, two of them challenge each other to a bathing-suit run! In -35C/-31F weather! One of them ups the ante and even jumps into the water - which was at -0.5C/31F. Brrrrr! So that person jumped from warm water into the air, experiencing a 60F degree drop in temperature in an instant! And wind-chill was probably crazy too... amazing!
YouTube: Desafío extremo: Polo Norte, en el confín del mundo 4/5

Easy Centigrade-Fahrenheit and Kilos-Pounds Conversions

Traveling between cities in the US and other countries requires conversions between Centigrade and Fahrenheit, as well as between Kilos and Pounds. Here's a easy way to do the calculations, inspired by the faint childhood memories of the Trachtenberg method of arithmetic manipulations, and achieving error rates of 1% or less.

Converting Centigrade to Fahrenheit
Converting Fahrenheit to Centigrade
SHA: SUBTRACT 32, HALVE, ADD one-tenth
The exact formula: °F = °C * 9/5 + 32
The easy formula is the same.

Easy conversion using D-S-A (or DSA32) steps, with example converting 14 °C:
1. Double: 28
2. Subtract one-tenth: 28/10 = 2.8, rounded to 3, gives 28 - 3 = 25
Ignore negative sign if any, to make it easier, and then put sign back again.
3. Add 32: 25 + 32 = 57 °F [exact value is 57.2 °F]

The exact formula: °C = (°F - 32) * 5/9
The easy but approximate formula: °C = (°F - 32) * 1/2 * 1.1

Easy conversion, using S-H-A (or 32SHA) steps, with example converting 57 °C:
1. Subtract 32: 25
2. Halve: 12.5
3. Add one-tenth: 1.25, rounded to 1.3, gives 12.5 + 1.3 = 13.8 °C [exact value is 13.888... °C]

If no rounding is done, these steps provide the precise Fahrenheit value, with no error. This calculation leaves an error of around 1%; adding 1% to final result will give a more precise value in Centigrade.
The exact error is (5/9 - 1.1/2) / (1.1/2) = 1.0101...%, but 99% accuracy should be good enough for most day-to-day purposes.
Calculator:  °C      °F (Exact & Easy)
  [Calculators Rounded to 1 Decimal Digit]
Calculator:  °F       °C (Exact)      °C (Easy)


In this section, it's all about memorable places I have visited, and like to visit again and again. And the focus is on food - where to get some good, local eats while traveling.

I thoroughly enjoy visiting cities, exploring all the streets and suburbs of a city, taking things very slow and just wasting time sitting on a city bench or a sidewalk cafe, spending all the time watching the local people go about with their daily duties. Then there is food - absolutely the best part of traveling is exploring restaurants of all types, and what draws me back to a place is usually the memory of particular foods - for example, Schwartz's in Montreal, Sal and Carmine's pizza in NYC, and the Taquerias in Mexico City. The food has to be unique and interesting, and the locals must also give it their vote of confidence. This means ignoring all the four/five star high-end tourist dining joints. These are actually risky since either bad food or bad service makes it all doubly disappointing, and secondly, all high-end places all over the world are alike. Why travel for those, travel should be for exploring and experiencing how others live and eat, in their daily routines.

I never make any definite plans about what I'll do when I get to a place - other than walk and eat, a strategy that works only in the truly memorable cities of the world.

Right now, I have two very favorite destinations -- Montreal, and any Latin America city. Montreal is just a six hour drive from Boston, so a a four-five day vacation is a sufficient excuse for me to try get to Montreal. And my fascination with Latin America and its people have given me my most important hobby -- I am trying to learn Spanish (sad to say, I have made little progress on that count even after multiple years of attending non-credit courses at the local school -- but that is ok, this is turning out to be a lifelong quest :-).